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LANDFILL: Community comes out in force to say ‘no’ to permit

Environmental attorney Douglas Zamelis’ back bowed under the weight of a stack of papers containing over 2,000 complaints about the odor coming from the Seneca Meadows landfill.

Representing the grassroots group Seneca Falls Environmental Action Committee, Zamelis hefted the paper stack as he scolded Department of Environmental Conservation representatives at the public hearing for the permit renewal application to continue operations within the currently approved Part 360 permit. There’s no denying the DEC knew about the complaints as Zamelis announced the paper stack had come from the DEC’s Avon office after he had submitted a request for all odor complaints under the Freedom of Information Law.

“The DEC has stood by like the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand,” the attorney said. “This dump is stinking up the town of Seneca Falls.”

Zamelis’ comments were met with applause as were many of the heartfelt pleas by area residents asking the DEC to oppose the 10-year permit Seneca Meadows requested in their submitted application.

But even before the second of two public hearings began, the DEC acknowledged the public concern. Typically the DEC does not hold public hearings for permit renewals, said Administrative Law Judge Helene G. Goldberger, who resided over hearings and will make a final decision on the permit. Goldberger said the DEC decided to hold the hearings due to the tremendous public interest of landfill operations.

Cindy Garlick Lorenzetti, Fayette town supervisor, was among the first public speakers to express her wish to see the permit denied.

“I am totally against any type of renewal for the permit,” she stated simply.

Residents signed up for their 3 minutes to voice concerns, frustration and anger over the “fog of stench” permeating the walls of homes, schools and businesses and denying the residents the right to simply enjoy the outdoors in their own backyards in this “once storybook community.”

Steve Churchill, Seneca Falls supervisor at large, said he can remember when the landfill was no more than 10 acres. With several schools less than 3 miles away, he asked, “How big is too big? How high is too high?” He told the DEC they had forgotten about the people and simply did not care about their plight. He urged residents to stop calling the landfill office with complaints and, as is customary when the smell of gas is detected, start calling 911.

Waterloos resident Cynthia French mourns the loss of a Mayberry feel the community once had. She has filed 39 complaints with the landfill regarding the odor, 15 of which landfill officials conceded an odor was present. In the last three weeks, French has called in three complaints about odor from the landfill that has deprived her enjoying outdoor activities and even the simple pleasure of sleeping with her windows open. One of her most recent complaints was investigated by Seneca Meadows officials in a drive-by, she said exasperated, “That’s an investigation?”

“Let’s get some fresh air and make this a good place to live again,” she said.

Several speakers noted the few supporters who came to speak in favor of the permit renewal spoke only of the money the landfill provided to the area and local charities. Supporters called Seneca Meadows a “generous corporate citizen” that buys local and urges others to do so as well. It was also noted the landfill plays an important role in the production of methane gas. Dan Emmo reminded residents that landfill employees are not enemies and offered kudos to the Seneca Meadows staff for their hard work. If the air was toxic, Emmo was confident the DEC would close it.

“No one wants a landfill in their backyard,” he said, adding that it was necessary until waste can be eliminated through such measures as recycling and composting.

A Junius resident said she woke that morning to the unpleasant smell of deodorizer used by Seneca Meadows to keep landfill odors down. She said the DEC and landfill were making fools of residents.

“Do you really care about us?” she asked. “The greed of money reflects the stink.”

Seneca Falls Environmental Action Committee chairperson Doug Avery said the only reason for fewer complaints as reported by Seneca Meadows recently is due to frustration not success of in solving the odor problem.

“They’ve simply beaten the residents into submission,” he said, adding that no matter what else has been done to conquer the odor, “It still stinks.”

Jackie Augustine came with suggestions for the DEC to better monitor and enforce regulations, of which Seneca Meadows has violated with the extensive odor problems. She was joined in her suggestions by a Geneva City Councilman who recommended the DEC return to more smaller landfills as in the past and move away from the mega landfills like Seneca Meadows that bring garbage from all over the state.

Despite the negativity of the meeting, Seneca Meadows officials remain confident.

“Seneca Meadows is proud of our 20-year spotless compliance record with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation,” Kyle Black, Seneca Meadows district manager, said. “ Our team goes above and beyond to safeguard the environment. We look forward to hearing the public’s feedback and continue working with regulators to bring out permit renewal to completion.”

How long it takes for a decision about the permit is uncertain. A DEC representative at the hearing explained there is a process that could take weeks for the judge to decide about the permit renewal and even if the permit is denied, Seneca Meadows has the right to appeal the decision – all of which takes time. More importantly is the question whether residents brought up a mitigating factor that the DEC had not yet considered in the renewal process beyond the desperate cries of a frustrated community hoping to take down a mountain.

Written comments may be submitted until August 18th and may be sent to Kimberly Merchant, Deputy Regional Permit Administrator, NYSDEC Region 8, 6274 East Avon-Lima Road, Avon, NY 14414; or emailed to senecameadowshearing@dec.ny.gov.

Tammy Whitacre is a reporter for FL1 News covering Seneca and Wayne counties. Send news tips to tammy@fingerlakes1.com and follow @FL1_TWhitacre for the latest.

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